California courts mostly take a no prisoners approach to Business and Professions Code section 16600, the statute prohibiting illegal restraints on trade. Courts broadly interpret Section 16600, which states that “every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void,” to invalidate most post-employment non-competes and customer non-solicits, including covenants preventing former employees or their new employers from “hiring” employees of a former employer (so-called “no hire agreements”). But Section 16600 does not bar all post-employment covenants–just those that “restrain” trade.
As employment lawyers based in California are well aware that post-employment non-compete agreements are generally void as a matter of law in this state. Further, there is precedent for awarding punitive damages and disgorgement of profits where employers have knowingly required employees to enter into invalid agreements. Also, the DOL has actively pursued California-based companies engaging in anti-competitive practices when it comes to talent.
Against that backdrop, however, employers need not “throw in the towel” completely when it comes to post-termination restrictive covenants as there are a few narrow scenarios that allow for enforceable post-termination non-competes in California in the right circumstances, and a potential new take on an old strategy to consider.
Craig Lee and Will Woods from Baker McKenzie’s Antitrust & Competition team shared the following update regarding no-poach agreements:
In July 2018, State Attorneys General from 11 states formed a coalition to investigate no-poach agreements in franchise contracts that restrict the ability to recruit or hire employees from the franchisor or another franchisee of the same chain. As part of the investigation, the coalition requested information about no-poach policies and practices from several fast food franchises.
In mid-December, we hosted our Annual California Update in Millbrae, CA. We were so pleased to see many of you in attendance.
Our End-of-Year Newsletter will hit inboxes shortly, but until then – here’s our top 10 New Year’s resolutions for multinationals in 2018:
In recent years, disputes surrounding executive employment agreements have increased significantly.
This is no surprise given the amounts at stake, whether it is the compensation and incentives arguably owed to the executive, or threats to the company’s business itself through unlawful competition, trade secret theft, or unauthorized use of confidential information.
While impossible to safeguard against all risk of course, pay close attention to the following provisions when drafting executive employment agreements. By doing so, the company will be better prepared to defend itself in future litigation, if necessary.
A recent Court of Appeal decision in the UK (Tillman v Egon Zehnder Limited) found that a post-termination non-compete restriction was unreasonably wide (and therefore unenforceable) on the basis that there was no carve out for shareholdings in the typically broad restriction which provided that the employee could not “directly or indirectly engage or be concerned or interested in any business carried on in competition with” the employer.
The Tillman court declined to sever (or “blue pencil”) the offensive wording and enforce the remaining provisions. Instead, the court invalidated the entire agreement.
Lots of non-compete covenants are broadly drafted and include catchall phrases like “concerned or interested in” and often do not include an express carve-out for shareholdings. As such, we suggest a quick review of your non-compete covenants in the UK (and other Commonwealth jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada) to determine if they are at risk of being deemed invalid. Seeking to enforce an invalid restriction could have costly consequences. However, there are steps you can take now, to mitigate the risk of voiding a restriction, even with existing employees.
Reach out to your Baker McKenzie lawyer for more details.